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Jewish Time

Shabbat and Holidays

The Jewish Week: Shabbat

There is no more prominent and frequent occurrence in the Jewish calendar than the weekly arrival of Shabbat. Along with the remaining six days of the week, Shabbat provides the basic rhythm of Jewish time. Six days of work, one day of rest: mundane, holy. Hurry up, slow down. Get distracted, return to the Source of All. Worry about yourself and your loved ones, remember your blessings. In the Havdala blessing that marks the end of Shabbat, God is praised for distinguishing between holy and mundane (hamavdil beyn kodesh l’ḥol).

Over the long and rich history of the Jewish people, the weekly observance of Shabbat has played a central role. The actual details of how Jews have observed Shabbat have evolved over the centuries and varied according to where Jews have lived and which cultural traditions they have inherited. In all communities of which we are aware, however, Shabbat has been the primary axis upon which Jewish life has turned: preparing for Shabbat, lighting the candles before sunset on Friday, sanctifying the day over wine and hallah, eating, singing, praying and studying Torah. The day revolves around putting aside the cares of the week to create 25 hours devoted to holy, restful living until the moment on Saturday evening when the Havdala ceremony marks Shabbat’s end. However the melodies, the foods and the customs have varied, Shabbat has sustained Jewish lives.

The Jewish Year: Holidays

The Jewish calendar allows us to follow ancient rhythms that orient our lives in many subliminal ways. To live in Jewish time means, for example, that the heat of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) reminds us of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Tisha B’Av) and leads us to the self-examination that precedes the High Holy Days. The weeks preceding Pesach have us enslaved in preholiday preparation, and the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot have us moving toward the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Following the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah has us thinking about the matriarch Sarah in October and November, and Miriam, Moses’ sister, in June. We inevitably bring new interpretations to the understanding of the holiday cycle and the re-reading of Torah, but in doing so, we are being acted upon by the sacred texts and practices that we encounter. We are becoming ever more Jewishly acculturated.1

  • 1. Adapted from A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 2—Shabbat and Holidays. The Guide may be ordered from the Reconstructionist Press.

More on Shabbat

More Holiday Resources

Twelve Years A Slave: A Passover Resource

This printable resource pairs selected quotes from Solomon Northup’s autobiographical memoir, “12 Years a Slave,” with quotes from the Exodus and other Jewish texts.


A  Passover Blessing for People of Many Backgrounds Who Journey with Us

This is a short Passover reading that expresses appreciation for people of backgrounds and identities other than Judaism. It would work well in a community seder, as well as home seders. 


The Midwives of Exodus: An Interfaith Text Study

An easily-accessible text study about the ethnic ambiguity that the Torah presents us with regarding the midwives who refused to obey Pharaoh's orders. 


For The Sake Of The World

Rabbi Toba Spitzer grapples wtih the traditional notion of Jewish chosenness, arguing that our Torah is integral to the maintenance and perfection of this world—even as we acknowledge that other people’s teachings, other people’s truths, are also a path to redemption. It matters that  Judaism survives—not just for our own sake, but because it’s good for the world, and because we have unique work to do.


Broken Tablets

A study sheet on the two sets of tablets in the Sinai/Golden Calf story.


Remembering and "Blotting Out" Amalek

The Torah commands us to “wipe out the memory of Amalek…do not forget!” (Deut. 25) But is Amalek an external enemy—or something inside us?


Remembering Amalek

The Torah commands us to “wipe out the memory of Amalek…do not forget!” (Deut. 25) What exactly does “Amalek” represent, and what might it mean to remember (or blot out) that memory? 


What is Sin? A Text Study

Study sheet on the different interpretations of “sin” throughout Jewish history.


Nitzavim and Teshuvah

Study sheet on the relationship between Parashat Nitzavim and themes of teshuvah.


Emor and Omer: A Study Sheet

The ritual of counting the Omer takes place between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot. This study sheet explores the deeper meaning of this commandment.


On Torah & Wilderness

Study sheet on the significance of having received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, in the wilderness.


Gates, Locked and Unlocked: A Yom Kippur Text Study

This text study examines the vivid image of gates closing at the end of Yom Kippur.


Making Pesakh Personal

This study sheet provides a variety of sources on the spiritual practices surrounding Passover (Pesakh).


Teshuvah and Compassion

This study sheet on teshuvah and compassion draws our attention to the interplay between our ability to forgive others, and God's ability to forgive us. 


Of Kings, Messages, Journeys: Parables of Teshuvah

This study sheet contains two parables of the King and the returning son by the Baal Shem Tov, as well one of Kafka's parables, “The Imperial Messenger,” which has some intriguing echoes of and stark contrasts with the first two stories.